The hopeful, interconnected nature of Brisbane's music community
Faced with live music's biggest crisis in recent history, Brisbane's live music world is staying strong and connected.
In 2012, I left a small beach town in Queensland and moved to Brisbane. The year prior, all I kept telling myself was that as soon as I got to the state's capital city, I wanted to immerse myself in the music industry and write about all of the fantastic bands that were coming out of the city. At that moment in time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Six months into living in Brisbane, my wish was starting to become true. I was meeting passionate musicians who were performing to small, intimate crowds at (the now closed) Alhambra Lounge and bigger, more devoted audiences at The Tivoli. I got to know the artists, the photographers, the producers and the fans throughout Brisbane and how much they loved where they were. It felt like a home away from home.
After a while, I started to notice something about Brisbane artists that I really didn’t see when artists from overseas (or even interstate) performed. One night, after a gig at Black Bear Lodge, a band finished their set and before packing up their equipment, they got off stage and headed straight to the bar. I noticed members of another well-known act in Brisbane welcoming them with open arms and a week later, I went to another gig and noticed that the same bass player of the band I saw the week before, was now performing with a new group. At first, I thought nothing of it, but over the next year, I realised this was an extremely common occurrence in Brisbane.
When I left Brisbane and moved to the south coast of New South Wales in 2015, I assumed that the music scenes in Wollongong and Sydney would feel just as friendly and warm as the Brisbane community did. There certainly is a collaborative, family-esque aspect to Wollongong and Sydney's live music worlds - the former particularly - but it's very different to what I experienced in Brisbane. Now, years later and living in Canberra, I’ve come to realise just how unique the Brisbane music community is and that yes, it really is a community in the best sense of the word.
"In Brisbane, we are all so dedicated to feeding our community that I’ve noticed we aren’t competitive in our practices in any way, and we all really embrace one another's differences,” DJ and radio host Dameila Vanderkolk (also known as Dameeeela) explained to me. Over the last few years, Dameeeela has become a champion of the city's electronic and hip-hop worlds, whether that's hosting mixes on triple j, or working across the club circuit as a curator and DJ.
“I see and LOVE how all our little collectives merge and come together to create some amazing collaborative projects, we work hand in hand, it’s super cute.”
Recently appearing on triple j's Mix Up program, Dameeeela has become a champion of Brisbane's club world.
In Brisbane, there’s quite a variety of music genres (and genre-bending) going on. First, we have DJs and producers like Dameeeela, creating amazing late-night sets at Valley hotspots, bringing those ready for a dance the surge of energy they crave. Then we also have electronic and pop musicians artists like Golden Vessel, Cub Sport and Mallrat, each creating gentle atmospherics and collaborating with one another alongside other producers and vocalists who also hail from the city (Mallrat features on Cub Sport's self-titled record, and Golden Vessel has worked as a producer for both these musicians).
Finally, we have what Brisbane has become known for: the bands. Violent Soho are a Brisbane institution, as are DZ Deathrays, The Creases, Ball Park Music and The Jungle Giants. Like the electronic artists I mentioned earlier, members of these bands like to collaborate with other artists from Brisbane, but in this particular space, the interchangeable nature of the music community truly becomes apparent.
Confidence Man plucks members from bands scattered around Brisbane's indie, pop and electronic worlds. Joe Aguis not only provides vocals for The Creases, but he also performs alongside Hatchie as part of her band and most recently, released the debut track of his own project Rinse. Speaking of Hatchie, prior to her break-out solo project, she played bass in both Babaganouj and Go Violets. DZ Deathrays performed as part of Velociraptor alongside Jeremy Neale, and Janet Planet - the brilliant frontwoman of Confidence Man - was also a brief member of The Belligerents back in the day.
Years ago, there was an illustrated map of the Brisbane music community that showed exactly how these artists (and so many more) were interconnected displayed at Brisbane’s State Library. Unfortunately, it’s no longer there.
Brisbane-based dance-pop outfit Confidence Man includes members from other Brisbane bands. Photo by Katie Willoughby.
After living interstate, I began to wonder why this feeling of community and collaboration is so prominent in Brisbane, but not so much anywhere else. Surely there is still a tight music community in other cities, but why isn’t it so obvious and prevalent, at least in other cities I've lived in?
Rei Bingham, who currently plays drums in Sweater Curse (but has previously been a member of many other brilliant bands - Yuuca ring any bells?), brings this phenomenon down too living in a city that promotes a more relaxed, easy-going lifestyle and headspace. “I think we’re so lucky here in a city that’s changing but still so comfortable to live in and still relatively affordable. Not to say it’s better than other states, it's just a different place and atmosphere.”
When I asked Dameila this question, she explained that because Brisbane is relatively smaller than Sydney and Melbourne for example, it makes it slightly easier to have a more close-knit community. “Compared to Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane has quite a small, tight community really. We all have Mutual Friends [for those at home, Mutual Friends is a Brisbane-based collective of friends who work heavily in Brisbane club culture, hip-hop and electronic], especially in the music/arts community.
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"Maybe it’s because most of our venues are in such a small span of space in The Valley or something, but you can truly make it to all of your friend's gigs in one night if you want. We are also so lucky to have everyone working hard at 4ZZZ, the community radio station that brings together all kinds of Brisbane creatives, it’s that collective and communal mentality that is our biggest asset.“
Kimberley Hanson currently works at the Brisbane Jazz Institute, is member of two bands (Krunj and Boss Moxi) and also moved to Brisbane at around the same time I did. Her views on the Brisbane music scene resonate with Rei’s and Dameila’s, but bring it down to one common denominator - the city itself. “Some would say it is too small, too interwoven and at times sure, it can be. But we are all so interconnected, as this whole COVID-19 crisis has made us come to realise. Especially as musicians, we thrive on support and collaboration and in Brisbane that is exactly what you get in a small, but strong community environment.
"Over the years, Brisbane has fostered so many fantastic artists, incredible events and festivals, iconic music venues and has achieved milestones that we will always be so proud of, and that is what keeps Brisbane standing strong: Our love for our city and the people within it.”
“I feel like all artists from Brisbane are always so proud of being from Brisbane,” Dameila says. “I love the commitment that we all have to growing our community in any way we can. Even when we move interstate, we always treasure and instantly bond over being Brissie bred.”
Rei Bingham (middle) of Sweater Curse has left an imprint across many of Brisbane's next generation.
Is it really the city that makes this scene so magical? Or is it the relaxed nature of the people who are so determined to keep the creativity alive and help one another follow their dreams? Surely this is happening all over Australia, but in Brisbane, the spirit of support and collaboration is there, plain as day. You don’t have to look far to notice the interwoven nature of the community, with people being members of multiple bands, producing each other’s albums, providing vocals for each other’s singles.
The Brisbane music community is a shining light in a tough time. When the world is coming together against a common enemy, the Brisbane music scene gives me hope that everything will be okay because there is support, there is companionship and there is love somewhere in this crazy world.
The Brisbane music community has evolved a lot over the last few years and it has created an image for itself that feels wholesome and organic, but where will it go from here? Will it become known as one of the more creative cities in Australia, running alongside Sydney and Melbourne? Something tells me that even if that does eventually happen, the artists who helped make that happen will be very humble about it - that’s just the way Brisbane is.
Rei agreed with that sentiment when I asked him about the future of the Brisbane music community, “It’s definitely its own thing. It would be great to see more of the industry side of things settle or set up camp here. There’s a lot of people who want to work in jobs that are still mostly based in other cities… I guess only time will tell!”
Kimberley is hopeful about the future of her beloved city and believes that the current crisis the world is facing will only solidify its strong community bonds, “I think it will highlight how we must work together even more in the online world to keep the music alive when we can’t in the physical world. This will open up a range of new possibilities for musicians and entice the industry as a whole to make better economic choices as well," she explains.
“The industry has suffered huge blows since the rise of the internet, but now we find that we are completely thankful for it and people are feeling more compelled to share themselves musically and emotionally online more than ever before, live and raw. I am sure that some true musical expression and some wonderful music will emerge from this. I think when this all blows over we will see more gratitude, more innovation and more events and live music than we ever have in this city’s community and in the world. And I’m here for it. I cannot wait for the future of Brisbane music.”
Kimberley Hanson works more-so within the jazz worlds of Brisbane's live music scene, but collaboration still thrives in her musical life.
The musical identity of Brisbane, to those on the outside, can be quite singular. With the cities most prominent and well-known artists being members of bands, Dameila believes that over time, the spotlight on Brisbane artists will widen and become more inclusive, “I think Brisbane really gets a ‘bandy’ type stigma but at the same time as we have our Beautiful-Brissie-Babe Bands, we truly have got so much going on it’s almost impossible to keep up with.
“From the crazy BYO warehouse parties happening at the moment (Forever Forward Music & Arts you angels), cyber dance parties to Shandy - our biggest queer dance party - to our very own Afro Soiree, and then Thelma Plum literally having Queensland Music Awards number one Album Of The Year, to Nerve opening for UK’s Aitch… We are growing in such a unique way and at such a fast pace right now it is extremely hard to picture the future of Brisbane’s music community. I just know for certain it’s going to get funner and funner.”
No one can predict how Brisbane will grow, but one thing I know for sure is that no matter where you’re from or where you’re going, it can always be a home for you. The Brisbane music scene will welcome you with open arms; I guarantee it. I came from a small town where I felt misunderstood and was welcomed into a community bursting with creativity and that continues to support each other, whether they’re an artist that’s just emerging, or really making waves across the world.
The Brisbane music community is stronger together and when this is all over, I encourage you to travel to Queensland’s capital and experience this supportive scene for yourself.